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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Non-Dwelling on My Fanny's Hill Street Blues

As collateral benefit from my research earlier today into the “improvement” and “capability” wordplay of P&P and MP, I noticed something else for the first time today, which is the common thread in the following four short excerpts from the last three chapters of MP:

Ch. 46: To-morrow! to leave Portsmouth to-morrow! She was, she felt she was, in the greatest danger of being exquisitely happy, while so many were miserable. The evil which brought such good to her! She dreaded lest she should learn to be insensible of it. To be going so soon, sent for so kindly, sent for as a comfort, and with leave to take Susan, was altogether such a combination of blessings as set her heart in a glow, and for a time seemed to distance every pain, and make her incapable of suitably sharing the distress even of those whose distress she thought of most. Julia's elopement could affect her comparatively but little; she was amazed and shocked; but it could not occupy her, could not _DWELL_ on her mind. She was obliged to call herself to think of it, and acknowledge it to be terrible and grievous, or it was escaping her, in the midst of all the agitating pressing joyful cares attending this summons to herself.

Ch. 47:She had met him, he said, with a serious—certainly a serious—even an agitated air; but before he had been able to speak one intelligible sentence, she had introduced the subject in a manner which he owned had shocked him. "'I heard you were in town,' said she; 'I wanted to see you. Let us talk over this sad business. What can equal the folly of our two relations?' I could not answer, but I believe my looks spoke. She felt reproved. Sometimes how quick to feel! With a graver look and voice she then added, 'I do not mean to defend Henry at your sister's expense.' So she began, but how she went on, Fanny, is not fit, is hardly fit to be repeated to you. I cannot recall all her words. I would not _DWELL_**upon them if I could. Their substance was great anger at the /folly/ of each….

Ch. 47: ….all this together most grievously convinced me that I had never understood her before, and that, as far as related to mind, it had been the creature of my own imagination, not Miss Crawford, that I had been too apt to _DWELL_ on for many months past. That, perhaps, it was best for me; I had less to regret in sacrificing a friendship, feelings, hopes which must, at any rate, have been torn from me now. And yet, that I must and would confess that, could I have restored her to what she had appeared to me before, I would infinitely prefer any increase of the pain of parting, for the sake of carrying with me the right of tenderness and esteem….

Ch. 48:Let other pens _DWELL_ on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest. My Fanny, indeed, at this very time, I have the satisfaction of knowing, must have been happy in spite of everything. She must have been a happy creature in spite of all that she felt, or thought she felt, for the distress of those around her. She had sources of delight that must force their way. She was returned to Mansfield Park, she was useful, she was beloved; she was safe from Mr. Crawford; and when Sir Thomas came back she had every proof that could be given in his then melancholy state of spirits, of his perfect approbation and increased regard; and happy as all this must make her, she would still have been happy without any of it, for Edmund was no longer the dupe of Miss Crawford.

So, within the short space of a little more than two chapters, we have four usages of the word “dwell”, and all of them expressed in the negative, in terms, respectively, of incapability, avoidance, regret, and refusal:

INCAPABILITY: When Fanny learns that Edward will pick her up the next day, the Bertram family scandals could _not_ dwell on her mind, she had to dutifully force herself to think about them.

AVOIDANCE: Then, Edmund tells Fanny that he would rather _not_ dwell upon what Mary said to him about the Maria/Henry fracas.

REGRET: Then Edmund regrets having been _too_ apt to dwell upon an idealization of Mary Crawford.

REFUSAL:And finally the narrator joins this “dwelling” chorus by _refusing_ to dwell on the Bertram family’s guilt and misery, leaving it to “other pens”.

So it’s not a happy ending, so much as a stuffing down of uncomfortable memories and feelings.

“Let other pens dwell” is of course more famous than the other three combined, because it is a rare JA narrative intrusion. But no prior commentator I can find has connected these four passages before and spotted “dwell” as the link. Furthermore, this blurring of the line between narrator and heroine, viatheir shared “non-dwelling”, is compounded by the narrator referring to “My Fanny”, in the next sentence.

It’s almost as though the narrator _is_ Fanny Price Bertram, but at age 40, thinking back twenty years, and writing the story of how she met and married Edmund, editing out the worst parts.

Which… exactly the temporal scheme of another very famous English novel with another famous heroine named Fanny, who tells _her_ story as a reminiscence of _her_ “coming out” ---Fanny Hill!

Which perhaps is why there are four references to the _hill_ at Sotherton, and also why Mrs. Grant says to Mary Crawford early in MP:"Ah! You have been in a bad school for matrimony, in _Hill_ Street."

And also why Mrs. Norris says: “And when we got to the bottom of Sandcroft _Hill_, what do you think I did?”(especially when we realize that one of the awful “clients” Fanny Hill must endure at Mrs. Cole’s is named Mr. _Crofts_).

And perhaps the most telling parallel of all in a novel with an infamous pun about “rears and vices”, consider the scene near the end of Fanny Hill involving Fanny’s horror at witnessing homosexual sex, vis a vis the “business” (that vague word is repeated twice) that Henry transacts with William at Hill Street, described in a passage that teems with Freudian innuendoes:

“[Henry’s] last journey to London had been undertaken with no other view than that of introducing her brother in _Hill_ Street, and prevailing on the Admiral to exert whatever interest he might have for getting him on. This had been his business. He had communicated it to no creature: he had not breathed a syllable of it even to Mary; while uncertain of the issue, he could not have borne any participation of his feelings, but this had been his business; and he spoke with such a glow of what his solicitude had been, and used such strong expressions, was so abounding in the /deepest/ /interest/, in /twofold/ /motives/, in /views/ /and/ /wishes/ /more/ /than/ /could/ /be/ /told/, that Fanny could not have remained insensible of his drift, had she been able to attend.”

Fanny could not have remained insensible of Henry’s drift, and, I suggest, neither can we any longer.

Cheers, ARNIE

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